Results of a recent audit of Woolworths 15 largest fruit and vegetable growers, show that Farming for the Future, Woolworths pioneering holistic approach to farming, is achieving what it sets out to do.
That is to help farmers grow quality produce while protecting the environment, preserving natural resources and reducing dependence on chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides – all without adding anything to the price the consumer pays at retail.
Woolworths has received support for this initiative from WWF South Africa.
The key to the success of Farming for the Future is soil health. When soil is healthy, it requires lessirrigation because it is better able to retain water, and soil erosion and loss of top soil are reduced.
Healthy soil also requires fewer chemical interventions, so there is less chemical run-off into water systems, which helps maintain water quality. Using fewer chemicals and pesticides also contributes to maintaining and encouraging biodiversity.
The recent audit revealed some remarkable achievements, such as an average 20% reduction in the use of synthetic fertilisers and an average increase of 34% in compost use.
Over the years, South Africa’s farmers have relied on synthetic fertilisers to boost production. However, synthetic fertilisers only feed the plants, unlike compost, which builds soil structure and increases soil microbial activity.
Farming for the Future has challenged Woolworths farmers to focus on building soil health for optimal plant growth and production.
One of the most impressive results is a 3% increase in soil carbon.
That may not sound like much, but, as Woolworths Technologist Kobus Pienaar, explains, “South African soils are historically low in carbon. In fact, the amount of carbon in our soils has been steadily declining over the years. The 3% increase in soil carbon is actually quite substantial.”
Another quite impressive statistic is that 720.9 million m3 of water has been saved over the past threeyears. That’s about double the capacity of the Grootdraai Dam (part of the Vaal River system).
While Woolworths farmers have for many years minimised their use of pesticides and herbicides, the adoption of Farming for the Future’s sustainable pest management techniques, such as integrated pest management, has resulted in a substantial initial decrease – in the region of 50% - in pesticide and herbicide usage, as well as an increase in biodiversity.
There have been other positive spin-offs from the implementation of Farming for the Future as well: with farmers focusing on reducing waste, they’ve found innovative ways of recycling, resulting in a 32% increase in recycling and a 13% decrease in solid waste material going to landfills. A further benefit has been an 18% reduction in fossil fuel use.
All Woolworths produce farmers – other than those who exclusively grow organic produce – have adopted Farming for the Future practices and will be audited on a regular basis.
Based on the success that the programme has had with produce, Woolworths is rolling out the initiative to its wine growers and horticulture suppliers.
Consumer benefits of Farming for the Future
it does not cost customers more
improves soil and water quality
promotes water saving
cares for the environment